Sean Murray was looking for a story to write.
He wanted something inspirational, something with a sports theme.
“Miracle,” the critically acclaimed film about the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team, eliminated that sport.
“The Boys in the Boat,” a book about the underdog 1936 University of Washington eight-man crew team that won gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics had the right theme.
So in a moment of reflection, Murray turned to his youth, when he was a 13-year-old boy and his father was the team psychologist for the 1984 U.S. Men’s Olympic Volleyball Team.
“I wanted to write a real story, a story with some importance,” Murray said. “I was inspired by ‘The Boys in the Boat.’”
What followed was a years-long project that culminated in “If Gold Is Our Destiny” — a story of a team of mavericks who came together for Olympic glory.
The book, which has several ties to San Diego, chronicles the early days of U.S. Volleyball, an underachieving program, and goes all the way through to the ’84 Los Angeles Olympics and the gold medal.
“You talk about ‘Miracle’ and this book could be turned into a movie,” said Chris Marlowe, the captain of that ’84 U.S. volleyball team.
“That ’80 hockey team was so much like our team. We hated our coach (Doug Beal). Nobody believed in us. We had a bunch of renegade players, guys from all over. Yet, somehow, we found a way to win a gold medal.”
Marlowe was a basketball and volleyball star at San Diego State.
He, along with Duncan McFarland, Randy Stevenson, Wayne Gracy, Mike Cote and Craig Beery, helped the Aztecs to the NCAA championship, the only Division I title in school history. Jack Henn, who recently passed away, was the head coach.
Marlowe, who is the TV play-by-play voice of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, and has called volleyball in numerous Olympics and for the AVP Tour, knows a thing or two about film.
A starving actor himself as a young man, Marlowe’s father, Huge Marlowe, and mother, K.T. Stevens, were both acclaimed actors.
His grandfather Sam Wood directed numerous films and was nominated for three Academy Awards.
“This is a good book, informative,” Marlowe said. “I know Sean worked hard on it. And I, especially, thought, I was portrayed fairly.”
Murray has a chapter in the book on the ’73 Aztecs.
And the ’84 Olympic team trained at old, smelly Muni Gym in Balboa Park, working around pickup basketball games, after relocating from Dayton, Ohio.
“If Gold Is Our Destiny” starts a little slow as Murray explains volleyball terms, then paints a picture of just how bad U.S. Volleyball was — never earning a medal in a major international competition.
The book heats up when it comes time to choose team’s final roster:
Dusty Dvorak (USC), Dave Saunders (UCLA), Steve Salmons (UCLA), Paul Sunderland (Loyola Marymount), Rich Duwelius (Ohio State), Craig Buck (Pepperdine), Marc Waldie (Ohio State), Aldis Berzins (Ohio State), Pat Powers (USC), Karch Kiraly (UCLA), Steve Timmons (USC) and Marlowe, who had been cut from the team, but was called back when Rod Wilde (Pepperdine) was injured and lost for an extended time.
The players immediately elected Marlowe captain.
Weeks before the Olympics, the group goes on a team-bonding trip — called Outward Bound — a two-week camping trek through Southwestern Utah, the Abajo Mountain Range and Canyonlands National Park.
It was 100 miles through remote wilderness and over snow-covered peaks at 11,000 feet.
“This team wasn’t friends,” said ’94 Olympic volleyball assistant coach Bill Neville. “Doug Beal and I argued all the time, but we trusted each other. Eventually, the team learned loyalty and trust. To win a gold medal, you have to have talent — and we had it.
“You have to have a little luck. And you have to stay healthy. And we had that, too.”
The players’ trust was tested with the installation of the American system.
In the copy-cat world of volleyball, teams tried to emulate the Soviets or Japan.
Beal and Neville came up with a unique style with the same two serve-receive players — Kiraly and Berzins, getting the ball to Dvorak, the setter.
He then set the ball to big men Buck, Timmons and Salmon.
The success was almost immediate.
“I rode the pine for six years with that team,” said Berzins, who was with U.S. Volleyball for 12 years, from the dark days in Dayton to Olympic gold.
“I was there from the beginning when we weren’t very good, then all the way to standing on the podium at the Olympics. But I believed in myself.
“I wasn’t a starter until the last two years. But I was ready when I was called on.
“That’s what makes this so sweet. This book is more than a volleyball story. It’s about life lessons. Our journey would make a great movie. I could see it being ‘The Chris Marlowe Story.’”
Asked his take, Marlowe said he’d start the movie at an international competition against Argentina when the U.S. was up 12-3 in the fifth game “and gagged.”
“Yeah, I think this would make for a pretty interesting movie.”
“If Gold Is Our Destiny” is available on Amazon and at most major book retailers.